Welcome to Minnesota, the Startup Capital of the North
February 1, 2018 – When NBC Sports announced it would web-stream a competition between startup ventures live from Minneapolis on Saturday, Minnesota companies were conspicuously absent from the line-up.
Organizers behind the National Football League’s “First and Future” competition say the reasons vary — they excluded some companies with ties to the Rochester-based Mayo Clinic, for instance, because the judges include two prominent Mayo doctors.
But make no mistake: Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, is home to just as many entrepreneurs and their daring ventures.
Bold North, indeed.
In Minneapolis, Erik Brust and Connor Wray manufacture frozen smoothies on a stick — better known as JonnyPops, a fruity recipe that rolled out of their dormitory basement during their recent undergraduate days at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
From the Maple Grove offices of StemoniX, fellow entrepreneur Ping Yeh plates damaged brain and heart cells for therapeutic testing — a stem-cell breakthrough based on concepts he licensed from a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
JonnyPops and StemoniX may seem like they’re worlds apart, but the Minnesota startups share the same accomplishment — they’ve both won cash and acclaim from the MN Cup, the largest statewide start-up competition in the country.
With the energy and excitement of Super Bowl LII in the air, business advocates held their own startup showcase Tuesday at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis. (So take that, NBC Sports!)
As 3D-printing companies, craft beer makers and experts in sports therapy displayed their wares, posters reminded visitors of the many inventions that the world can thank Minnesotans for: water-skis, minute clinics, post-it notes, roller blades, battery-powered external pacemakers, satellite news television … It’s a long list.
In addition to dozens of exhibits from new Minnesota companies, the heavily-attended “Startup Capital of the North Showcase” drew previous winners of the Carlson School of Management’s MN Cup, which distributes a total of $450,000 in cash awards to the state’s most promising new business ventures, including student businesses.
“We were excited to showcase the many great companies and entrepreneurs in the region that are creating products, services and platforms to solve real problems for consumers,” said Michael Brown, a spokesman for Greater MSP, a Twin Cities economic development partnership and lead event organizer. “(NBC’s) 1st and Future startup competition missed out by not featuring any Minnesota companies.”
The showcase was sponsored by the MN Cup, Greater MSP and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.
The 2018 MN Cup will host a launch party on March 26. Applications will be due April 27, with an awards event Oct. 8.
Here’s a quick look at just a handful of companies that participated in the Startup Capital of the North Showcase:
When youth teams like the St. Paul Blackhawks, Eagan Wave Youth Soccer, Roseville Area Youth Baseball or the Woodbury Area Hockey Club want to evaluate players or rank tryouts, they turn to the same software — Team Genius (MyTeamGenius.com).
The performance software, which is the brainchild of Chris Knutson and former Forest Lake youth soccer (Lakes United FC) coach Todd Larson, is geared toward youth sports but could easily be adjusted for college athletes, physical education classes or even orchestral musicians. The Pittsburgh Flag Football League is one of many clients who have signed on since the company’s official launch in July 2016.
“Paper-driven process is error prone and really requires a lot of data entry,” said Knutson, noting that Team Genius rankings are automatically adjusted in real-time as data comes in. “If you ask anyone who’s ever run a youth sports evaluation, or tryouts, they will cringe when you talk about entering data the old way.”
Don’t call it mouth guard. Well, OK, Edina-based Prevent Biometrics produces a mouth guard, but it’s also so much more. The guard masks a flexible, shock-resistant circuit board that sends impact data in real time to your phone app.
Every time your student athlete takes a hit in hockey or meets the ground in lacrosse, the intensity, location, direction and count of each head impact can be sent instantaneously to sideline personnel. The product, which debuted this year, promises to improve the speed and accuracy of concussion assessment, diagnosis and treatment — as well as faster return to play.
Founded in 2015, Prevent Biometrics is working with the Department of Defense and the National Football League on professional applications.
It might look like there’s a dirty word in there somewhere, but Minneapolis-based Smashit promises a clean conclusion after an “exciting opportunity to destroy (recyclable items) inside of our safety-certified mobile cage.”
The Smashit.live website features a “wreckreational destruction” video of a ski and snowboard club taking bats and sledgehammers to old plates, printers, keyboards and other expendable items. After guests at your social gathering or private fundraiser have finished breaking stuff, everything gets neatly carted away to recycling companies by these young entrepreneurs, most of whom are still undergraduates. They launched their company in December.
OK, this one’s not exactly a startup, but it is proof that Minnesota startups can grow to become significant players in cutting-edge industries. Founded in 1988, Stratasys, now based jointly in Eden Prairie and Rehovot, Israel, has been producing manufacturing aids and replacement parts through 3D printing longer than almost anyone in the field.
Before sending designs off to China for mass production, companies turn to Stratasys to 3D-print a new vehicle part that can be fit-tested and function-tested using real fuel. And that’s just one of many potential applications, which range from the medical to the mundane. The company 3D-printed a trophy for Tuesday’s showcase in about eight hours.
StemoniX® is transforming how medicine is discovered. By using skin or blood to create functioning microHearts® and microBrains®, StemoniX is making it possible to test medication on humans without that medication ever entering their bodies. This method of drug testing will speed up the search for new cures and enable the ability to test drug effectiveness on an individual person, so medicine works correctly the first time. For more information visit www.stemonix.com.